By: Chris Webster                Categories: Animation

The passing position describes the moment in the walk cycle when the body is supported by only one of the legs, which is held in a vertical position with little or no bend at the knee. At this point the leg is positioned directly below and in line with the torso. The other, nonsupporting leg is positioned alongside the weight-bearing leg and swings forward past the supporting leg—hence the term passing position. The knee of this leg is bent at this stage to allow the foot to be raised to clear the ground. During the passing position the kinetic energy of the figure’s forward movement is converted into gravitational potential energy as the figure rises slightly. This energy is then released as the leg swings forward and the body drops and completes the stride.

If we now take a look at the two passing positions and both the strides as a sequence of keyframes, we can see how the entire cycle works and can analyze it in its simplest form.

walk cycle phases

The walk cycle keys. From left to right: stride, passing position, stride, passing position

The leg movement is clearly the primary action of a walk cycle, but the walk action is not limited to the movement of the legs alone. In the following phases of the walk, we can see how all parts of the body work together to produce a complete sequence. The phase order in this instance is an artificial one and quite arbitrary, since there is no distinct beginning or end to this cyclical movement. However, the sequence holds as a general guide, though variations will occur in different walks.

Passing Motion

Walk cycle; Phases 1–5. Left to Right

Phase One: The Stride

  • The left leg is thrown forward, the knee is straight, and the foot has just made contact with the ground.
  • The right leg extends backward behind the body, the knee is straight­ened, and there is a bend in the foot as it remains in contact with the ground.
  • The right arm is in a forward position, with a slight bend in the elbow and the forearm held in front of the body. The right shoulder is rotated forward.
  • The left arm is extended in a backward position prior to its movement for­ward. There is a slight bend at the elbow and at the wrist. The left shoulder is rotated to a backward position.
  • The body is at the lowest point in the cycle. The angle between the legs is at its widest, which places the hips at their closest position to the ground.

Phase Two: Squash

  • The left leg moves into a more upright position and begins to take the weight of the body, the foot is flat on the ground, and there is a slight bend at the knee.
  • The right leg is now lifted from the ground. There is a slight bend at the knee that ensures the foot clears the ground as the leg begins to swing forward.
  • The right arm begins to move backward as the right shoulder rotates backward. The arm is held in front of the body and has a bend at the elbow.
  • The left arm begins to move forward as the shoulder rotates. The bend at the elbow and wrist remain. There is slight drag on the hand.
  • The body remains upright.

Phase Three: The Passing Position

  • The left leg now takes the entire weight of the body. It is straightened at the knee and held in a completely upright position directly below the torso.
  • The right leg has swung forward to its position alongside the supporting left leg. The knee bends increasingly to ensure that the foot clears the ground.
  • The right arm continues to swing backward; the elbow remains slightly bent, with the forearm extending in front of the upper arm.
  • The left arm moves forward and is now positioned alongside the body. The elbow remains bent and the hand is located directly below the shoulder.
  • The body, head, and hips have risen to their highest positions in the walk cycle. The supporting leg and the torso are vertically aligned.

Phase Four: Stretch

  • The left leg now begins to extend backward and is positioned slightly behind the body; the knee remains straightened.
  • The right leg swings forward. A bend in the knee means that the lower leg moves ahead of the upper leg in anticipation of the foot contacting the ground.
  • The right arm moves backward, with the elbow and forearm extending behind the body. The right shoulder rotates backward.
  • The left arm continues to swing forward ahead of the shoulder, which also rotates to a forward position. The bend in the elbow increases slightly.
  • The body begins to fall forward from its highest position in the cycle.

Phase Five: The Stride

  • The right leg is thrown completely forward; the foot has just made contact with the ground and the knee has straightened.
  • The left leg is extended backward behind the body and there is a bend in the foot as it prepares to be lifted from the ground. The knee is straightened.
  • The left arm is now in a forward position, with the forearm held in front of the body, a slight bend in the elbow, and the left shoulder rotated forward.
  • The right arm is extended backward prior to it moving forward. There is a slight bend at the elbow and wrist. The right shoulder is rotated backward.
  • The body once again reaches the lowest point in the cycle, with the angle between the legs placing the hips closer to the ground.
  • It is important to realize that the sequence described here makes up only half of a complete walk cycle. The second half simply reflects the first, with the opposite limbs undertaking the same actions with the same timings.

Excerpted from Action Analysis by Chris Webster.

Chris Webster is an animator who has worked for 20 years in the industry and has extensive experience as an educator teaching across a broad range of levels from schools, higher education and professional training programs and within the studio environment. He is currently Head of Animation at the University of the West of England.

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By: admin                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspiration

Animation great, Hans Bacher examines his own and his colleague’s work on Disney projects in Dream Worlds.  Today, we are sharing an excerpt where Hans discusses the importance of research and reference materials.  He also provides a brief glimpse of the reference materials, art, and team that inspired and created Aladdin’s majestic enviornment.

The research part can be very time consuming as it depends on how complicated the project is. Sometimes it is very easy to get the right reference within a short time; once in a while it is impossible.

That’s why Disney arranged for research trips for many years for some of the leading designers of a project. They went to Africa for The Lion King; to Peru for the Emperor’s New Groove; to the Greek Islands for Hercules; and  to France for Beauty and the Beast, where I was fortunate enough to be able to join them. Unfortunately, I was not part of the group of artists that went to China for Mulan.

In that case you would depend on books, television documentaries, movies and the Internet. It is the time when you go back to school and learn how things look, and learn how to draw them. During this time, you create the foundation for your style of the movie. The more thorough your research is, the fewer problems you will face during production. During the last stage, there will be no time left for studying.

Case Study: Aladdin

Working on Aladdin was a good experience. Ron Clements and John Musker wrote the script and directed the movie. Some musical numbers were written by the experienced team of Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The story went through a lot of major changes. In the very beginning there were a few additional characters such as Aladdin’s mother, but soon the story was streamlined. 

The environment was that of 1001 Arabian Nights and had to be designed well. There are a lot of movies that are set in that world, and we wanted to come up with something new. I found a lot of reference art books about the Orientalists, a group of mostly French painters around the end of the nineteenth century who concentrated on Middle Eastern themes. And I studied Persian miniature art for the palace garden. There were so many new art influences that I had never really cared about before. Among the Orientalist painters, I soon found my favorites: Jacques Majorelle and Jean-Leon Gerome.

The style that Richard van der Wende, the assigned production designer, came up with was very interesting as well, a mixture of Orientalist paintings and the cartoony style that the studio used for Peter and the Wolf and some other shorts such as Bongo from the mid-forties. I came back to these shorts when I developed the style for Mulan several years later. So, it was a great learning time.

Then Eric Goldberg arrived. I had met Eric for the first time in 1977 in London when he worked for Richard Williams Animation. Later Eric had his own studio, Pizazz, in London. He decided to close it down and to move with his wife, Susan, to LA. As far as I remember, he had had enough of the business stress. Well, Eric took care of the genie, and he just cranked out hundreds of drawings in the shortest time. He was used to a different speed from his commercial days. And the genie he developed was amazing. We couldn’t wait for the next animation tests. 

Then there was Daan Jippes, a comic creator, again in story-boarding. We had worked together on Beauty and the Beast and had become good friends. He was the storyboard genius. All of his boards could be framed and hung on the wall. What a draftsman. Later, when I was in London working on Balto, I convinced him to join us and he did the most amazing sequences. They influenced the animation completely. And we worked together again on Mulan. 

Together, it was a very talented group of artists; not to forget Bill Perkins as art director; Kathy Altieri, head of background; and Rasoul Azadani, head of layout, and of course a little bit later when I was already working on The Lion King, Andreas Deja who animated Jaffar, one of the best characters in the movie, Mark Henn who animated the beautiful Jasmine, and Glen Keane with Aladdin. 

I got along with Richard van der Wende very well, and during the short time I worked on the movie I was able to design some interesting areas, such as the lion head in the desert, master sculpted for CG reference by sculptor Kent Melton. I was lucky enough to work with Kent for many years on a lot more movies. Then there was the whole cave sequence. It was fun to do the designs because I liked effects, and there were a lot of them: exploding lava, fire and underwater. A bit later there was the treasure cave with all the collected treasures of the world: gold and jewelry. And I worked on the styling of the palace garden. That ended up very simplified in the final version.

Richard was a master painter. He had worked at ILM before and he had some matte-painting experience. Usually he painted the key backgrounds himself, very much as Eyvind Earle had done for Sleeping Beauty. That gave the other painters a good example in which they could follow. When Richard was busy with one of his masterpieces, I had to fill the gap and design some of the missing areas. They were usually very fast felt-pen sketches. Once in a while I worked in pastel. It was an incredible learning experience to work with all these artists. And I think it was the “masterclass” in the “Film Design School” that prepared me for the upcoming projects of the following years.

Dream Worlds is available at Amazon,, and wherever fine books are sold.

Hans Bacher been a major influence on the design of Disney films for nearly 20 years.  His work appears in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules and Mulan.  He won the prestigious “Annie” animation award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production” for his work on Mulan.

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By: Dave                Categories: General

Tom Bancroft, author of Character Mentor, recently did an interview with where he discusses his beginnings in the animation business, how he came to writing his two books, and website,

Also, Tom encourages you to enter his Character Mentor Contest for a chance to show off your talents illustrating poses and emotions and win $100 worth of Focal Press animation books.

You can read the full interview here, but here’s a snippet for you:

CE:  What made you become interested in the educational aspects of character design/creation?

TOM:  Growing up, my twin brother Tony and I wanted to be comic strip artists. Drawing and creating characters was a passion of mine, but I didn’t know it at the time. Soon after that, I discovered animation and my passion changed to wanting to just be an animator at Disney. Once there, I was content with the challenge of making their characters come to life and have appeal. I worked my way up the ladder, eventually becoming a supervising animator. In that position, you were expected to help design the character you were going to animate. In my case, it was “Mushu” for the film Mulan.

CE:  You have launched a new website called “Character Mentor Studio” to coincide with the release of “Character Mentor”.  What was this site set up for?

TOM:  The site is a place for people to find more information about “Character Mentor”, my first book, and other educational products, as well as some personal sketchbooks and comic books I’ve illustrated.

I am also very excited to introduce a new “workbook” series I am creating.  The first 4 of these will be both sketchbooks and instructional books in one.  You draw in them like a sketchbook, but I have added instructions on things you can draw.  Challenges, you could say.

The first workbook, called “Shape Inspiration”, is about to ship.  It features 50 pages of 3-4 different shapes per page.  The goal is to turn each of them into a face or character of some kind.  You can turn the same shape into something different many times over.  I think it will be a great tool to get your creative juices flowing!

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By: Cedric                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspiration

Here is a beginner’s tip from Tony White’s Animator’s Notebook which all animators should keep in mind regardless of  experience.  Tony highlights the importance of testing your animation while in the process of creating and provides a few tools for this important task.  Tony White’s Animator’s Notebook is a beautiful handbook of insider tips and techniques for budding animators working with pencil and animation paper as well as 3D applications.

The Importance of Testing
It is extremely important for animators to test and review their work regularly as they go along. In all honesty it is very, very rare for any animator to get things right on the first attempt. Consequently, the process of animation is very much one of trial and error. So testing everything as you go along is strongly advised. For traditional 2D animators, regular “flipping” of their drawings is a must.


Flipping is where an animator holds up a stack of animation drawings (lowest numbers at the bottom, highest at the top) and views them as they flip rapidly from bottom to top. Flipping gives a sense of how an entire action is shaping up before it is formally shot. It doesn’t necessarily give a perfect representation of how the action will appear in real time on a screen, but it does give a strong overall impression of how it will look. Here’s another example of scene flipping.

Sometimes traditional animators will want to check just the few drawings they are working on rather than an entire sequence. In this case, peg flipping, or rolling, as it is sometimes called, is used. Traditional animators need to use registration pegs to synchronize their drawings one to another. They will either position these pegs at the top of the drawing (top pegs animation) or at the bottom (bottom pegs animation), depending on preference. Peg flipping therefore is a process of interweaving the fingers between the drawings and flipping them in sequence to see how it is moving. Here’s an example of peg flipping for bottom peg animators.

And here is an example of top peg flipping.

Playback Testing
All types of animators will need to test their work by playback before anyone signs off on it. Most traditional animation software, as well as 3D animation software, allows animators to play back their animation in real time, whether that real time is at 24 fps (frames per second), 25fps, or 30 fps. However, whatever system of animation is being attempted, the regular playing back of animation is of paramount importance, and clearly, the more the animators test and refine their work, the better it ultimately will be.

Tony White, renowned animator, director, professor, lecturer, and author, has been in the animation industry for over 30 years, and currently teaches 2D animation and oversees principal animation production classes at DigiPen Institute of Technology. White began his career working with legendary industry professionals like award-winning illustrator Ralph Steadman, animation gurus Ken Harris, Art Babbit (original lead animator on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and others at Disney).  He also personally assisted, then directed/animated for Richard Williams (3-time Oscar winner and author of The Animator’s Survival Kit). In addition to being the Dean of Fine Art and Animation at DigiPen, White founded and presides over The Animaticus Foundation, which he formed to preserve, teach and evolve the art form of traditional 2D animation.

Tony has also authored:



By: admin                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspiration

Earlier this week, we brought you an excerpt from Elemental Magic, Vol. II, by former Disney animator, Joseph Gilland discussing the advantages of creating pixie dust special effects with hand-drawn techniques over CG.  Today, Gilland will walk you through creating pixie dust special effects by hand.

Now I’ll look at how I might go about animating a pixie dust scene, from scratch. In most cases, an effects animator working in a studio will get a scene that has already been finished by the layout department, and if there is any character animation, it will usually have been completed before the scene gets to the effects department. So chances are, in the case of a pixie dust scene, there will already be a clearly defined path of action for the effects animator to follow.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s imagine that the character that is generating the pixie dust is a tiny fairy, who only appears as a shining, sparkling light as she flies into and around the screen. This would be considered an “effects only” scene (a scene in which there is no actual character animation, only effects), but the path of action would still be previously defined by the layout department, and then the character animation department would probably animate the point of light, at least roughly, for the effects department to follow.

Before starting to animate, I will usually do a few sketches, and maybe a couple of clean, finished drawings, to get an idea of the look I am trying to achieve. At this stage, I would be working closely with the director, to make absolutely sure I get a clear idea of what he or she is thinking of, both design- and animation-wise. There are a lot of different ways to approach a magic scene of this nature, and it is important to make sure that you are on the same page as the director, art director, and others, before getting too far into the work at hand. This stage is one of my favourite parts of the creative animation process, for it gives me a chance to come up with fresh ideas and techniques, and possibly to pitch a unique way of animating pixie dust to the director.

Even if the design and look of the animation have already been predetermined, this is still a fun, creative part of the process, and thumb-nailing the way the pixie dust will unfold is a good way to get started. This is also when an effects artist can think about the physics of the magic he or she is going to create. As the trail of magic particles is created, they can behave in an infinite variety of ways, as mentioned earlier in the chapter. I like to invent a new set of physics, particular for the film I am working on. Even if the director is looking for typical, traditionally animated pixie dust, there is always room for a little variation or customization of the magic effect, which will give it some originality and set it apart, if only slightly, from the the rest. Adding that special something to your special effects animation should always be your goal, if you wish to excel in this field.

It is important at this point, to determine the complexity of the pixie dust. One of the most common mistakes that I see effects animators make is making pixie dust overly dense. A really elegant pixie dust design does not necessarily need to have millions of densely packed particles to look good. In fact, far fewer particles can look far better in many cases. A much cleaner and more subtle design overall is also far easier to manage timewise, so I always try to economize as much as possible, although I am as guilty as anyone for getting carried away and going over the top from time to time.

As a general rule for either a novice or experienced professional animator, pixie dust, like most fluid special effects elements, is usually animated straight ahead. That is, without many key frames or poses, but rather just animating one drawing after another, forward through time. As always, I start the animation out with very rough drawings, just to get a feel for the scene. Flipping pages is important at this phase of the scene’s development, to see how the flow of the animation is working.

So what does this rough animation actually look like? Well, it can be as messy as can be, mere scribbles on the page initially. What is most important is that we create a series of drawings that flow into each other elegantly. As the path of action meanders and the pixie dust magic turns corners and moves through space in perspective, we must take great care to assure that there are no abrupt changes of trajectory or direction in our animation, if we are to create a flowing piece of animation. The smallest awkward bump in our animation will kill the magical feeling that we are attempting to portray.

As pixie dust flows around a corner, it is of utmost importance to keep the directional flow moving smoothly and following through elegantly in its path of action. Failure to do so will result in a stiff performance, so flip your pages often and make sure you “go with the flow!”

This brings to a close this small chapter on animating pixie dust. I invite you to take a look at the examples of me animating pixie dust in real time on the Elemental Magic II website, as well as many other clips of well executed magic effects animation. This is where the true value of this volume will spring to life, giving you moving examples in real time rather than relying entirely on a series of images in a book. While I am sure this book will be helpful, I am excited to be introducing an interactive website as well, and I welcome your input and comments wholeheartedly! And if there is anything I have missed in this volume (I know there are tons of things!) that you would like to see, drop me a line and I will do my best to get it up on the website as it progresses!

Happy animating!

In his 32+ year animation career, Joseph Gilland has worked with such studios as Walt Disney Feature Animation, Don Bluth Animation, Productions Pascal Blais and the National Film Board of Canada. At Walt Disney Feature Animation, he served as Supervisor of Visual Effects for the Disney features Lilo & Stitch and Brother Bear. At Disney he also served as Head of Special Effects Units for the Disney features Kingdom of the Sun and Tarzan, and was Special Effects Animator on such notable titles as Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, James and the Giant Peach, Hercules and Mulan. He served as Designer and Supervisor for all 2D and 3D visual effects on the television series Silverwing, and Chaotic at Bardel Animation in Vancouver. He has also designed and directed a wide variety of television commercials. Clients include General Motors, CocaCola, Honda, MacDonald’s, Gillette, Players Tobacco, Larrouse Dictionaries, and Radio Quebec. For almost three years, he was the Head of animation, and Digital Character animation at the Vancouver Film School. He lectures at animation schools in Canada, Europe and Asia, and has conducted workshops at animation festivals and schools around the world. he is a professional musician and performer as well. He has been writing professionally for over three years now, and has a bi-monthly column in the online Animation World Magazine, entitled ‘The Animated Scene’ which has an enormous readership around the world. He has also had articles published in Animation Magazine, the world’s foremost industry magazine, as well as well as an article in ‘Cartoons’ The International Journal of Animation.

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By: admin                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneralInspiration

In this excerpt from Elemental Magic, Vol. II, former Disney animator, Joseph Gilland discuses the advantages of creating pixie dust special effects with hand-drawn techniques over CG.  Stay tuned for the continuation, where Gilland will demonstrate his techniques for hand-drawing pixie dust.

Cinematographic masterpieces like Avatar have completely blurred the lines between what is “real” and what is “animated,” and what constitutes an actor as opposed to an animated character. Using motion-capture technology and extremely powerful new tools to build artificial environments and create mind-boggling visual effects, today’s filmmakers are unfettered by any limitations, except maybe what they can afford to do, depending on their budget. But the sky is definitely the limit. The only limit to what we can do with visual effects today is our knowledge and imaginations.

However, what I am covering in this chapter has absolutely nothing to do with the sophisticated digital wizardry seen in our modern-day animation filmmaking industry. In this chapter I will delve into the art of creating beautiful pixie dust animation, similar to the magic effects in Disney’s Cinderella (1950) or Peter Pan (1953). This magic has been thoroughly rooted in my imagination since childhood, and it has much to do with the fact that I always wanted to be an animator, for as long as I can remember. Although the stories in the early Disney films certainly captivated me, and the characters had their wonderful appeal, it was when I saw actual magic on the screen that my jaw dropped opened, and I felt my imagination swirling with the idea that absolutely anything is possible.

Suddenly, a pumpkin being transformed into a garish gilded carriage was not a long stretch of the imagination, and children flying out of their bedroom window and out into the starry night sky made perfect sense. And it was the appearance of the magic sparkling fairy dust that carried me into that state of complete suspension of disbelief.

The “classic” pixie dust that first comes to mind for most people is probably Tinker Bell’s trail of magic dust that she leaves behind wherever she flies. And this is reinforced by the fact that even if you haven’t seen Disney’s original Peter Pan in decades, Tinker Bell continues to grace countless Disney television shows and commercials. Although much of the Tinker Bell pixie dust we see these days is a cold computer-generated version that is a far cry from the whimsical, light, and playful pixie dust of days gone by.

Some readers may remember that in my first volume of Elemental Magic, I touched on the fact that in my early days at Disney I was saddled with the job of attempting to recreate perfect Tinker Bell pixie dust with CGI technology, using Disney’s own proprietary particle software. It was an arduous task, far more difficult than it sounded at the time. And it still is to this day, which is why the CGI pixie dust that we frequently see in films and on television today somehow lacks that special something that makes the old hand-drawn stuff look so darned magical. This is really a damned shame, because it is still feasible and could actually be substantially cheaper for an animated production to create pixie dust the old-fashioned, hand-drawn way.

But our 21st century obsession with all things digital has narrowed people’s creative toolboxes, and at this point the mere suggestion that something could possibly be done better and cheaper by hand would be summarily dismissed by most folks in the animation industry. Be that as it may, I have found in my travels around the globe conducting my Elemental Magic workshops, that students and professionals from all arenas of the animation world are still very interested in how these magical effects are (or were) done, back in the day.

I can’t help but look back on my computer-generated pixie dust work at Disney in the early 1990s, and I’ll never forget telling my boss at the time, “You know, I’ve been working on this digital pixie dust for weeks, and I could easily have animated it all by hand by now, and it would look spot-on perfect!”

And I contend that learning just how it was once done will benefit any animation artist immensely if he or she intends to attempt to create pixie dust of any kind, regardless of the technique being used. Animating magical pixie dust by hand, one gets to see it unfold frame by frame on a piece of paper in front of one’s eyes, and subtleties become apparent that are sadly missed when digital tools are used to splash pixie dust recklessly across the silver screen. When animating pixie dust by hand, each sparkle, every tumbling twinkle, can be infused with character and a mischievous magic all its own. The level of control one actually has over the general “feel” of the pixie dust is far and above what one has using digital tools.

When I am animating pixie dust, I take full advantage of the fact that each individual particle can be tweaked in its own special way. Some sparkles will glimmer, starting from a small, barely perceivable dot, and then expanding and contracting in size. Others will twirl and whirl, also growing and shrinking in size as they do. Still others will twinkle randomly, with no rhyme or reason, creating a fluttering kind of chaotic energy in the pixie dust. Many particles can be allowed to appear randomly out of nowhere and then disappear, winking in and out of existence and creating a shimmering effect to the overall look of the pixie dust.

Another consideration is the lifespan of each individual particle; the lifespan being the amount of time any given particle of pixie dust actually appears on the screen. When we are creating particle pixie dust using CGI software, one must control each particle’s lifespan using fairly broad tools that affect all of the particles in the same way, with only a modicum of control over the randomness of the particles’ lifespans. This can be pushed farther using mathematical expressions, and some software allows the artist to introduce additional chaos to the lifespan of the particles in a number of different ways. But it is still a far cry from being able to tweak each individual particle, on the fly, making decisions intuitively and immediately as we animate straightforward in time.

When animating pixie dust by hand, an effects artist can add or subtract the number of particles at will, customizing the final design of each 24th of a second, and playing with the lifespan of the particles to suit the needs of each individual frame. The decisions being made can be purely esthetic and utterly random in nature, and this kind of frame-by-frame creative freedom gives hand-drawn pixie dust a personality that is nigh impossible to match when software is being relied upon to generate this effect.

Another fascinating thing about animating pixie dust by hand is the effects artist’s ability to change up the overall design and/or physics of his or her pixie dust at any time. Let’s say a “fairy” flies into screen left, leaving behind a string of sparking magic dust that falls elegantly in dripping curtains of twinkling particles, in the classical style of Disney pixie dust. But then, when the fairy does a series of loops or sharp turns, the trailing magic powder can suddenly spray out and away from its source, much like a beautiful wake of water spray from behind a water skier. Or it can billow out elegantly in turbulent smokelike waves, or perhaps it can animate upwards away from its source like air bubbles trapped underwater.


For an effects animator using CGI tools to match the extremely chaotic, random, and sometimes absurdly imaginative changes that a traditional effects animator can bring into play at whim is, in my estimation, absolutely impossible. And I welcome a healthy debate on this topic, as I know there are a great many 3D artists who will probably vehemently disagree with me. But before anyone out there gets too upset with these ideas, at least try animating some pixie dust by hand before forming an opinion, and read on, as I do honor all the great things that CGI technology is capable of.

I will concede that yes, of course it is possible to create some utterly amazing looking pixie dust with CGI tools, and that yes, of course there is a place for it in the industry as well. In some cases, if a director is looking for a very dense, or large-scale kind of magical pixie dust effect, I would be the first to recommend creating the effect digitally. In addition, when working in a fully 3D CGI environment, with complex 3D camera moves and sets, sticking with CGI tools is probably the best bet to ensure that everything is working together well and integrating into the 3D space seamlessly.

Please, keep in mind that the pixie dust I am referring to here is the classical and much simpler Peter Pan or Cinderella style of magic, that to this day has never been matched by an animation artist using CGI software, at least not to my knowledge.

Check back in later this week for part two, where Gilland demonstrates his technique for hand-drawing pixie dust.

In his 32+ year animation career, Joseph Gilland has worked with such studios as Walt Disney Feature Animation, Don Bluth Animation, Productions Pascal Blais and the National Film Board of Canada. At Walt Disney Feature Animation, he served as Supervisor of Visual Effects for the Disney features Lilo & Stitch and Brother Bear. At Disney he also served as Head of Special Effects Units for the Disney features Kingdom of the Sun and Tarzan, and was Special Effects Animator on such notable titles as Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, James and the Giant Peach, Hercules and Mulan. He served as Designer and Supervisor for all 2D and 3D visual effects on the television series Silverwing, and Chaotic at Bardel Animation in Vancouver. He has also designed and directed a wide variety of television commercials. Clients include General Motors, CocaCola, Honda, MacDonald’s, Gillette, Players Tobacco, Larrouse Dictionaries, and Radio Quebec. For almost three years, he was the Head of animation, and Digital Character animation at the Vancouver Film School. He lectures at animation schools in Canada, Europe and Asia, and has conducted workshops at animation festivals and schools around the world. he is a professional musician and performer as well. He has been writing professionally for over three years now, and has a bi-monthly column in the online Animation World Magazine, entitled ‘The Animated Scene’ which has an enormous readership around the world. He has also had articles published in Animation Magazine, the world’s foremost industry magazine, as well as well as an article in ‘Cartoons’ The International Journal of Animation.

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By: admin                Categories: General

This is an excerpt from Write Your Way Into Animation and Games by Christy Marx.  Write Your Way Into Animation and Games can be found on Amazon,, and wherever fine books are sold.

Jean Ann Wright

How to Begin

Put in as much time as it takes to develop characters that are really original and interesting! You’ll want each of them to be as different from the others as possible. Those differences allow your characters to conflict and to relate to each other in funny ways. You’ll probably want to start by writing a biography or fact sheet for each of your main characters. If you’re an artist, you may prefer to start by drawing the characters. Often writers choose to script scenes between characters to see how they’ll react. And actors sometimes prefer to improvise scenes out loud to develop their characters. Whatever works best for you is fine. Think of your characters as real actors. Get to know them so you know what they’ll do. Lucky for you, your actors won’t indulge in gourmet lunches and then demand a trainer to get in shape for the big battle scene or insist on a stunt double to fight the fifty-foot, flying monster with two robotic heads!

Types of People

People have been characterized by types and traits for eons. In the Middle Ages there was black bile (melancholic, sentimental, thoughtful), blood (sanguine, amorous, joyful), yellow bile (easily angered, obstinate), and phlegmatic (calm and cool). Another method divides the body into centers: head (soul, link to God), pituitary (integrated mental, emotional, and physical), throat (conscious creativity, intellect), heart (greater love, brotherhood of man, self-sacrifice), solar plexus (aspiration, group power, personal power), sacral (sex, money, fear), and root center (survival). Carl Jung classified types as the introvert or the extrovert, and then further into those who experience life mainly through sensing, thinking, feeling, or intuition. People have been characterized as being dependent, independent, or interdependent. Whether or not you believe in these kinds of classifications, any of these methods might help you to develop your characters. Of course, there’s also astrology.

Consider these other norms. Real people are often in conflict with their character opposite. However, some people seek out others that complement their strongest traits. Usually, people are a combination of two or more types.

Classic Comedy Character Types

From its beginnings, comedy has often been based on a character type. It’s a stereotype in that it’s an exaggerated model we recognize and understand. This kind of character is valuable in comedy shorts like cartoons because we already know that character and what to expect. It saves time. We don’t have to set up a new character for the audience, but we can go immediately into the story and the gags. We laugh when the character does the funny thing that we have come to expect, and we laugh when he does something off-the-wall that we don’t expect. Inflexible types are great for comedy. These character types have a comic defect. You can set up a character type and bounce the world off him, using conflict and contrast. Think of Homer Simpson, Donald Duck, and the Grinch.

Comedy stemming from character allows for sustained humor, and it’s remembered long after the gags and the situations. A good gag builds characterization, and characterization builds gags.

Classic Roman comedy types are still used in cartoons:

  • The Blockhead —We’re smarter than he. He’s defeated before he even begins.
    • Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)
  • The Naif — The kid who’s always in trouble.
    • Bart Simpson (The Simpsons)

Other typical comedy types include the following:

  • The Fish Out of Water—The misfit. (Try developing a whole series around this type!)
    • Shrek (Shrek)
  • The Naïve—Forever innocent.
    • Winnie the Pooh (Winnie the Pooh)
  • The Conniver—Not innocent, but really guilty.
    • Wile E. Coyote (Road Runner)
  • The Zany—Wild and crazy.
    • Aladdin (Disney’s Aladdin)
  • The Poor Soul—The underdog. This character works best today when he’s a child or an animal. Be careful about adult characters that appear to be victims. If the adult is a victim, then he must constantly be struggling to get out of that situation for us to identify with him. Also, this kind of character must retain his cool and remain likeable no matter what injustices are done to him. Charlie Chaplin fought for his dignity.
    • Tweety Pie (Tweety Pie)
  • The Coward—Always the chicken.
    • Scooby-Doo (Scooby-Doo)

Starting a Profile

Not every question that follows will be applicable or necessary for each character you develop. The most important information is what will help you delve into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of your characters. Feelings and emotions are key to good writing! You might even want to write down your own character profile and delve more deeply into the things that make you tick. Tapping into your own emotions, often buried deep inside you, get inside their skins. Some people feel that it’s better to write a character profile in the first person, as if it were an autobiography, so you really get inside the soul of each character. Your characters should be allowed some room to grow as you write more about them. The more you know about your characters, the better.

Character Profile

  • Name (name may give us a clue: Precious, Cowboy, U.R. Steel, or Ted D.Bear)
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Appearance (height; weight; hair color; eye color; physique; size; posture/poise/carriage; outstanding physical characteristics, such as dimples; dress—taste, neatness)
  • Movement
    • Does he move like a dancer or someone who’s sleepwalking?
    • How does he walk?
    • Does he use expansive gestures when he talks?
  • Mannerisms
  • Voice (diction, vocabulary, power, pitch, unusual attributes)
    • What does the character say, and how?
    • Give your character a dialogue tag (Fred Flintstone’s “Yabba dabbadoo!”).
    • Make your character’s voice distinctively his or hers.
  • I.Q., abilities, talents, qualities (imagination, judgment).
  • Personality/attitudes/temperament. Attitudes are key to comedy and situation drama.
    • Is your character ambitious, loyal, sensitive? Inferior, optimistic? Shy?Sloppy? Eager?
    • Character flaws, bad habits, weaknesses
      • What is your character’s biggest secret? What will happen if someone finds out?
      • What is your character’s biggest fear? Why? What caused this?
      • What was your character’s biggest disappointment?
      • What was his most embarrassing moment?
      • What was the worst thing that ever happened to him?
      • How does this affect your character today?
      • What makes your character angry? Frustrated? Ashamed?
      • Does he have self-esteem?
    • Is your character a loner? Does he belong to lots of groups? Which ones?
      • How does he connect with the other characters during your story?
    • What makes your character laugh?
    • How does he relax?
    • Motivations, goals, ambitions. What does your character want?
    • What is your character’s spine? What’s his unchanging driving force throughout life?
    • Does your character put his own self-interest first, or that of the group and its survival?
    • What are the shifting allegiances in your character’s life?
    • Does he feel pressured by other people or circumstances?
      • What are your character’s hard choices? Crises? Urgent decisions?
      • How does he react differently from the norm?
    • Values. What’s important to your character?
    • How does he feel about the past? What in past situations have specifically affected the important choices he is making in this story?
    • What are your character’s current circumstances (rich/poor, good luck/bad luck)?
      • What effect do these things have?
      • What current threats exist in your character’s life?
      • What opportunities does he have?
      • How does your character feel about the future?
  • Situation
    • How did your character get involved in this situation?
    • What about his background or personality made him get involved?
    • What kinds of changes has your character been going through?
      • Birth of a child? New brother or sister?
      • Marriage? New stepmother or stepfather?
      • Death in the family?
      • A major move?
      • A major school or job change?
    • What external or internal stresses is your character facing
  • Birthplace
  • Ethnic background (when needed, research for authenticity) and any cultural baggage?
  • Social/economic/political/cultural background and current status (research)
  • Education
  • Occupation—research well if he has one. Values derived from the work(an accountant vs. an actress)
    • Pace, stress factors, other characteristics of the job.
  • Lifestyle
  • Family
    • Siblings? Parents? Husband or wife? Extended, adopted, or alternative family?
    • How do these relationships now or in the past affect your character?
    • How did he grow up? With love? Closeness? Neglect? Abuse?
    • How did your character’s family affect his self-image?
  • Hobbies, amusements
    • What does your character read, watch on TV/in the movies/on the Internet
    • What sports, exercise, or hobbies does your character engage in?
    • What does he do on Saturdays? Sundays? Tuesday evenings?
  • What makes him funny?
  • Give your character one dominant trait, with a couple of other less important traits.
  • Era—if this is historical, research well.
  • Setting or place
    • What kind of people would be in this setting?
    • How would your character react to this setting? Would he be happy here?
      • Why or why not?
    • Where was your character before this? Why?
    • Is he likely to leave soon? Why or why not?
    • Does this setting or where he was before give your character a different outlook or attitude? A different rhythm?
    • What sounds, smells, and tastes are in your character’s surroundings?

You don’t need to answer every single one of these questions, but do take the time to get to know your character. Use the Character Profile to help you explore personality.

This is an excerpt from Write Your Way Into Animation and Games by Christy Marx.  Write Your Way Into Animation and Games can be found on Amazon,, and wherever fine books are sold.

Christy Marx is a writer, story editor, series developer, game designer, and interactive writer. Her many credits include: Babylon 5 and the Twilight Zone; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; He-Man; X-Men Evolution; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Lord of the Rings; Elfquest; and more.

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